Creating a Healthy Culture in your Ministry

A healthy culture is critical to a healthy youth ministry. Yet, it can often be overlooked as a building block to a ministry. 
I can still remember what it felt like the first time I showed up to a youth group. There were kids every where, lots of laughter, the youth pastor introduced himself to me and welcomed me, and a guy I knew from baseball invited me to hangout with him for the night. Intentionally or not, they had created an atmosphere that was fun and welcoming. I wanted to be there and I wanted to come back. The health of the culture in your ministry will affect everything from whether students will open up during small group, engage in worship, or invite their friends. There are 3 steps to creating (or correcting) the culture of your group: Define, Nurture, and Enforce.

Guy Kawasaki in The Art of Innovation says ‘Make mantra, not mission statements’. I’ve seen plenty of mission statements that look and sound pretty but never actually penetrate the conscience of the group. If your mission isn’t understood by your people then it’s completely useless. That’s why I love Kawasaki’s statement. A mantra is short and memorable while also defining what the organization is about. A great corporate example comes from Ebay who’s mantra is “democratize commerce”. It’s amazing to me how two words can capture what an entire business is about so clearly. Aim for the same level of clarity for your mission.

Add to your mantra a handful of values that help your students and leaders to live out your desired culture. Live out and talk about the values constantly. Have you ever noticed how often Facebook changes things on their site? It drives a lot of people crazy. But, did you know that one of their corporate values is “move fast, break things”? Facebook values innovation and encourages their people to pursue it even at the risk of failure. Zuckerberg himself lived it out and the rest of the company followed. For values to take hold in your ministry, you will have to lead the way as well. What values are important for your ministry? How could you phrase them to make them memorable?

For culture to stick it has to be enforced. Unfortunately, this will mean discipline. It’s no fun, but if cultural violations aren’t dealt with the culture will disintegrate. In our youth ministry we operate with 3 Respects (respect each other, the leaders, and the facilities) and a clear set of consequences if they’re broken:
Step 1 - talk to the student. remind them of the respects and what the next step will be.
Step 2 - remove student from activity, talk to them. contact parents. 
Step 3 - repeat step 2 plus suspend the student from youth for 1 month.
We’ve never had to go to step 3. In fact, even step 2 is rare. Why? I believe it’s because when students know exactly what’s expected of them (and those expectations are reasonable) they’ll usually stay within the boundaries they’re given.

 Without a clearly defined, nurtured, and enforced culture a toxic culture will eventually take hold. Once a toxic culture is in place growth and health disappear. Creating a healthy culture takes time but the effort is well worth it.